Zero waste traveling?!
Traveling creates a lot of waste in this world, but does it really have to? There are many ways how every individual traveller can eliminate or at least reduce waste and therefore their ecological footprint.
Trying to eliminate or reduce waste during your travels can be challenging, but the zero waste lifestyle also has some pretty nice products that are actually ideal travel accessories.
Just think about solid shampoo. Solid shampoo has no packaging (and therefore no plastic waste), so when traveling, I pack it in a small tupperware or aluminum box. Since it is solid, it can also be packed in your cabin baggage while flying without having to be put it in a plastic bag at the security check. And the solid shampoo lasts as long as a regular shampoo bottle, while being nicely small.
Also nice: toothpaste powder. It comes in a glass (for example from Birkengold) and lasts for ever. And since it is a powder: again no need to flash it at security check with all your other liquids. And the glass can be refilled. You can even produce such a powder yourself. And of course, using a bamboo toothbrush that is compostable and packed in paper goes along really well with that
Bring your own bottle!
Very handy for traveling is a light travel flask. Here you can choose from thousand of great offers in all shapes and sizes. You can choose insulated flasks (for example from klean kanteen) or just a normal bottle. I prefer a light stainless steel bottle, to reduce plastic even further. Security checks have no problem with empty flasks and most airports or train stations have free water fountains to refill them. Or you just get it refilled at the onsite restaurants with anything they offer.
For hiking I usually bring my platypus flask. When not filled, you can roll up the bottle to make it pretty small, fitting every tiny bag. And it comes with a carrying loop to attach it to most backpacks or belts or wherever you want to attach it to. And they are BPA free, so no worries that plastic will end up in your body like it happens with many other plastic materials.
Who needs straws anyway?
One of the biggest problems for the environment are plastic straws. There are very few exceptions where they are absolutely needed, so why not eliminate them? If they land in nature (and most of the trash does at one point), wildlife will eat it, get stuck in it, die from it. So, say no to straws. If you love your smoothies or cocktails, invest in one or more stainless steel straws. They don’t need much space in your luggage and you can get a smoothie at the take away with your insulated flask and your stainless steel straw. The plus: thanks to the insulated flask, the smoothie stays cold much longer.
Another very good and sustainable travel accessory are microfiber towels made from bamboo. The towels are pretty big and comfy but pack very small, so they are not taking up much space. And they are made from sustainable resources (check for the labels).
Reusable food containers
On shorter travels or for business meetings out of town where I know I will be near a train station around lunch time, I usually bring my own container and cutlery. Here you can choose again between BPA free materials or stainless steel containers. Check out your local camping/outdoors store for the best ones. With those containers, you can easily get food at every take away or food truck that not only sells pre-packaged salad or sandwiches.
Or if you like traveling light and just having sandwiches, invest in some bee’s wrap (waxed cloth). There are even ones especially for sandwiches, where you can wrap your homemade or bought sandwiches. And without anything inside, it is extremely slim and weighs only a few grams, so you don’t have to carry heavy.
One of my favorite accessory is a self made bag for fruits and veggies. I love going to the market, here and abroad. And with your own bag, you don’t need the single-use plastic bags they offer you there. And if needed, your own bag can be used for other purposes in your luggage as well
Zero waste on planes?
The biggest problem while traveling by plane is the catering on board. While some airlines have their food in reusable containers and use metal cutlery, most airlines still use single-use plastic containers, wrapped in more plastic. On short flights you can easily bring your own food (most airlines don’t serve food on short distances anyway). But on longer flights with several meals, it is hardly possible to bring everything on your own. But, you still can! For example can you bring your own sustainable cutlery and give the unopened plastic cutlery back to the flight attendants. Also, make sure you tell them why you do this (friendly) and ask them to pass this on to the bosses, so maybe they will switch from single-use plastic to reusable food containers and cutlery, unpackaged (or at least wrapped in paper or cloth.
For the drinks, I usually bring a flask that also has or serves as a cup. Then you can ignore all the cups they will offer you and just use your own, saving at least 10 plastic cups on a long distance flight.
Refuse - reduce - reuse - recycle - rot
So just make sure you reduce what you can, refuse cups by bringing your own, refuse disposable hot wet cloths, refuse napkins by bringing your own washable napkin and don’t forget to tell the airlines why you do it. The more people complain, the faster they will change. I personally always put an unpackaged request in the box for food preferences while booking. So far they did not react to that, but maybe one day they will.
What are your favorite zero waste accessories for traveling?
Or do you have other insider tips for me? Let me know and leave a comment.
Finding and losing friends through travels
Traveling connects you with many people, while sometimes it leads to a disconnection with some other people you already have in your life.
On my travels, I meet many people and I love that - it is one of the main reasons I love to travel. Some of these encounters even turn into friendships for a lifetime. But to make new friends while traveling, you have to have an open mind.
If you tend to be one of those travelers who have every second of your travels already organized before even starting the trip, you will probably not have the time to meet anyone, unless they are on the same trip like you.
But if you are like me, only planning the most crucial steps along the way (like how to get there and back and maybe some ideas of what to see and where to go), a whole new world awaits you. You will wander around, talk to locals, talk to strangers, taking in the moments that are there and many opportunities will open up.
If it weren't for being open minded, my friend and I would have never went to that secluded beach in Zakynthos only locals knew about. Or I would not have been invited to go for lunch with some street musicians in Barcelona I was listening to, or have a spontaneous private party thrown by some barkeepers for my 20th birthday. And for sure, I would not have met this Russian girl from Amsterdam in Havanna who turned out to be one of my closest friends with many more travels together throughout the years (and many more to come).
Yes, sure, not everybody has the ability to be as liberal with things like that as me, some people are more reserved or just don't like or need to meet new people - and that is perfectly fine as well. But if you really want to get in touch with new people along your travels, here are some tips:
If you travel often and independently, you might arrive at a point where you also lose some friends along the way. It might be during your trip - because you don't agree on the hotel or the next stop. It might be long after the holiday, because things come up that were not ok for your friends but they never told you until then. Or it might be that you just simply grow apart during the holiday or after, because the travels changed your world view - you realize that you are not on the same page with your friend anymore. I "lost" one of my best friends who travelled with me many times on a holiday. We are still friends, but far from being that close as before. And up until today, I don't know the entire reason. Was it me, was it the destination that was maybe not what she was expecting or was it because she was freshly in love and rather wanted to be back home with him? I have struggled long with this, but at some point you just have to accept it and move on and focus on your own life.
Here maybe a few tips to avoid losing friends for the most simple reasons:
And most of all: never allow any of these points to keep you from traveling.
What are your experiences? Do you have more or different tips?
Volunteering with the NGO Photographers Alliance and Sustainable Roots in Ecuador
„A bucket of water needs every drop to be full. Your drop may be tremendously tiny, but if you are not there, the bucket is not full.“
These words by Toni Walters perfectly describe, why volunteering is important even though nowadays it is hip and trendy. If done for the right reasons, that is.
I am a big fan of volunteering and spend as many of my holidays volunteering in different projects as possible. This time, I had the opportunity to join a different experience of the same. I signed up for a week of volunteering at Sustainable Roots in Ecuador in a mentorship program of the NGO Photographers Alliance. You spend the week in a volunteering project, helping and taking pictures getting workshops and 1:1 tips by a professional photographer. The project can then use your best shots for fundraising and also a part of the program fees are used for that project as well as to save children around the world from preventable blindness.
Sounds to good to be true? All I can say, this was an amazing experience and a win-win situation for everybody. I got to up my skills and knowledge in photography, spent a week with amazing people in a superb project and just had the best of times.
What does Sustainable roots do? The project is the brainchild of founder Toni Walters, who came to Cosanga, Ecuador in 2004 to study caterpillars. A few years later, Sustainable Roots was officially launched and she stayed permanently in Cosanga.
The organization does everything to help the local community. They provide free education for all ages (english, arts, leisure etc.), organic gardening and reforestation projects and they organize monthly Mingas. Mingas are community work days where the whole town works together to improve the village. While we were there, they had a Minga to paint the newly built stairs in the village and to decorate it with a richly planted terrace system on both sides. The whole town was working hard, schlepping stones and plants, painting, digging, planting. And the result is stunning.
Cosanga is a small village in the Napo valley near Quito. The community is unlike any other community I have experienced so far. Everybody was extremely welcoming, warm and charming and they had a lot of patience with non-spanish speakers. And the kids were just amazingly cute, all of them. They were super interested in knowing our names and seeing our pictures and especially to get a hold on our cameras and phones to go take pictures themselves. And like the rest of Ecuador, the community was extremely affectionate and heartily and I could not help but fall in love with all of them.
Sustainable Roots can only work because of the help of many volunteers, short term or long term. Volunteers experience everything first-hand. They teach english at the organization and the local school, they help in the garden project as well as with the reforestation of the cloud forest. You hardly get a more hands-on volunteering experience than this.
The other benefits of spending time in Cosanga: Food is extremely yummy and you get to experience Ecuadorian specialties like Cevichocho or Empandas verde - and all that on a shoestring. Also, you get to be outdoors a lot and indulge in being in a cloud/rainforest area with the most incredible diversity of green you can think of. Imagine the joys of running around in rain boots almost every day, jumping from puddle to puddle.
And did I mention the kids of Cosanga?
Are you intrigued and want to book your stay with Sustainable Roots in Cosanga? Check out the link in the TRAVEL TIPS section for more details. I promise, you won’t regret going there.
I am a swiss photographer (www.fmphotography.ch),
a travel, wildlife, volunteer and outdoors addict who cares about zero waste, the environment and simply our planet.